Gov. Chris Sununu is urging state lawmakers to rethink their opposition to using $ 17 million in federal funds to attract new workers by helping pay off some of their student loan debt.
Initiated by the governor’s office for emergency relief and recovery, the measure is not dead, but it may be on life support.
It was deposited 10-0 on a bipartite vote by the Joint Tax Committee of the Legislature on December 17. He was supposed to return on Friday, but the office has withdrawn the point while it works on the proposal.
There is no specific timeline for when the measure will be resubmitted. The money is part of the federal government’s $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act which has funded dozens of programs in New Hampshire to promote public health, economic recovery and other priorities.
Committee members said it would not be fair to help some students pay off their college loans when this benefit was not available in the past and others paid off their debts on their own.
Another criticism was that it should be up to business, not government, to offer incentives to recruit employees and that this would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
But Sununu and Taylor Caswell, executive director of the office, say the incentive could be an important tool in boosting the workforce. Healthcare companies and other industries across the state, including the Monadnock area, say they just can’t find enough workers.
The plan would have used federal pandemic relief funds to pay off up to $ 20,000 in student loan debt for more than 1,000 people who agree to take a job in New Hampshire and hold that job for four year.
Anyone with education or training debt would be eligible for the program, which would begin early this year, if approved by the Joint Tax Committee.
“It inspires young people not only to go to work, but to go to work here in New Hampshire, with the idea that we can help pay off student debt,” Sununu said at a press conference. Thursday in response to a question from The Sentinel.
“It’s a one plus one tie to three on this issue because you want the students to have some financial flexibility, but mostly you want them here in New Hampshire.
“So we have federal money to implement programs like this. I just hope [the legislators] reconsider. It’s just saying, “While you stay and work here in New Hampshire, in most industries, we can pay off your student loan debt.” It’s a victory for everyone.
Before they can come into effect, these proposals must be approved by both the Budget Committee and the Executive Council. The board has already approved it.
Councilor Cindi Warmington, whose district covers Keene and many surrounding communities, supports her.
Such programs are not new, she said. The state is already using student loan relief as an incentive to recruit doctors from underserved areas of the state.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic,” Warmington said. “It’s money that is usually not available to us, but it’s now because we are faced with extraordinary circumstances. I would support its use to bring employees into the state to deal with a severe labor shortage like we have never seen before. “
Caswell said such programs have proven to be useful in recruiting workers.
“We didn’t feel like this was a very controversial or untested approach,” he said.
“We have employers in the state crying out for more people to respond to the demands of their businesses.
“If they choose not to go in this direction, we will continue to try to find solutions to the workforce problem.”
In terms of fairness for past or present students who might not have access to this program, Caswell said there are limits to what the government can do.
“It’s a program like any other program,” Caswell said. “It starts on a certain date and has certain goals. Unfortunately, I can’t necessarily claim that this is a 100% fair program, but what is a fair trade program? “
“Yes [the legislators] chosen not to go in this direction, we will continue to try to find solutions to the problem of the workforce.
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